“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That’s John 3:16, one of the most beloved verses in the Bible. I am quoting it here not because of the promise of salvation, but because of what the opening phrase reveals about God’s heart. He loves the world.
We’re watching a series at Heartland Worship Center called “Good or God”. It’s central theme is important, the difference between simply advocating good and serving the lordship of God. Nevertheless, the presenter fell a little short in session 3 when he tried to make a point about the Lord being jealous of our love for the world. The presenter said we can’t love both God and the world, a familiar warning from the pulpit. But then he warned us to avoid legalism, and gave many examples about how legalism is built around practical-seeming rules to avoid worldliness. Our pastor rightly discerned the conflict in the teaching…how to avoid the the world without being legalistic in avoiding worldliness.
Much of the church seems conflicted about their place in the world. They sometimes equate being active in the world with “operating in your own strength”. As an alternative, they say to seek closer relationship with the Lord. Nevertheless, He wants us to be salt and light in the world. He wants us to disciple the nations. We seem to vacillate between two calls, the inward call to be set apart from the world and the outward call to set right the decline of the nation. We know that the culture has declined because we’ve been negligent, but we’re uncommitted to getting involved.
But here is another reality. God loves the world and we Christians love the world. We experience pleasure and enjoyment through all that God provides for us. God is not against our enjoying nature or loving our families or seeking success in our occupations or any of the many blessings He’s given us through His creation. As a matter of fact, Jesus’ last instruction was to go out into the world and make disciples of the nations. He wants us to be salt and light for the world. He wants us to help Him transform the world.
Here then is the correct point. Although God loves the world, what God doesn’t love and we don’t love either is the system of the world, the spiritual meaning behind the Greek word “cosmos”that is translated “world” in those verses that warn us about the world. The world system is characterized by materialism, selfishness, the love of power, and the oppression of the weak. He doesn’t want us to be seduced by that system. If we turned from His way to the world’s way or tried to accommodate both at once, that would make Him jealous.
One of my favorite verses about Jesus is Luke 2:52, ” Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” It shows that Christ maintained the right balance of favor with God and favor with the world’s people. First, He had to grow in wisdom and favor with God, He had to nurture relationship with the Father. But Jesus was not just a holy man who sought God and God alone. He loved people and drew people to Him. Because of His relationship with the Father, the Lord knew that the will of the Father was that all men be saved, and that meant establishing relationship in the world. There should be nothing confusing in this. Our call as Christ-followers is to be His agents in renewing His creation and the people He wishes to save. For God so loved the world.